Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Grapes to be planted next year ahead of possible winery

byJohn P. Boan/Times-Georgian
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A handful of local residents are planning on planting grapes in the coming months, an effort that will hopefully culminate in a county cooperative winery.

The Vineyard and Winery Association of West Georgia, which was formed about four months ago, has generated much interest in the local community, with upwards of a dozen people committed to beginning their own vineyards at the start of 2011, said Doug Mabry, a consultant with the county who is spearheading the effort.

It’ll be three years before the new vineyards produce any grapes, and the organization has plans to bring in oenophiles and other experts from as far away as Spain and France to ensure that local efforts aren’t for naught, he said.

“We’re going to advise them every step of the way,” Mabry said. “We’re going try to take people step by step as they plant their seeds up until the point when they see their first harvest.”

Should they be successful, the new vineyards could show dividends for both the farmers and the community as a whole, he said.

For the farmers, a vineyard provides a sustainable crop that also ups the value of the land itself, and a feasibility study conducted by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development paints an even broader picture of a local winery’s economic impact. The study, completed in 2009, concluded the county could support such an industry, as it would draw from a 75-mile radius. The county market area would include much of metro-Atlanta, representing 5.7 million people.

Not all of these people are of legal drinking age and some don’t drink wine, but according to numbers from The Wine Market Council, those who do drink wine do it liberally. On average, Americans drink 3.2 gallons of wine a year, and when broken down by the number of wine drinkers in the market area and the average amount of disposable income, estimated retail sales for wine in Carroll County comes to $5.7 million.

But the possible impact to the local economy doesn’t end there. Wineries are big business, Mabry said, and it’s not necessarily because of the wine they sell. Wine-related tourism has always been a cash cow for areas typically known for their wine production, like northern California, and there’s no reason Carroll County couldn’t reap the same benefits, he said.

Carroll County was once one of the biggest wine producers in the country. In the 1890s the area was known as the “Napa Valley of the east.” Bulgarian and other Eastern European immigrants developed a massive local industry that at one time touted 1,500 acres of vineyards. But in 1907, prohibition went into effect, and the local industry has never really recovered.

The Vineyard and Winery Association is in the process of applying for a grant to provide upwards of $150,000 in funding, and it’s yet to be seen how much the total cost will be to create a functional winery.

All things considered, if and when the winery gets off the ground, it’s going to be a boon for the government and residents alike, Mabry said.

“The profits from this all trickles down to a lot of other stuff,” Mabry said. “It’s something that’s going to benefit the whole area, not just the individual.”

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